Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: MY NOTORIOUS LIFE by Kate Manning

Book Review:  MY NOTORIOUS LIFE by Kate Manning
Scribner Books, September 10, 2013  ISBN:  978-1-451698077 (Kindle edition)
Scribner Books, August 15, 2014 (trade paperback edition)

This is a masterful piece of historical fiction in which Manning examines the life of Axie Muldoon, the daughter of Irish immigrants who resides in the slums of lower Manhattan in the mid-19th Century.  After her widowed mother suffers a terrible accident, Axie does what she can to keep the rest of her family  (her younger sister and baby brother) intact, but, as a child herself, she is unable to do so.  Her mother returns from the hospital, and Axie finds a few months of happiness in their squalid tenement with her.  Yet, a few months later, tragedy strikes again, and Axie ends up as a maid servant in the household of a married couple who help women through giving birth, as well as with the prevention and early terminations of pregnancies.

Axie soon becomes apprenticed to the wife, and learns how to become an excellent midwife, determined not to allow her women patients suffer from the horrors of unwanted pregnancies, bad childbirth and postpartum complications.  She grows up to be a fine, strong, and very wealthy woman with a sexy, headstrong husband.  When Axie becomes a mother,  her career choice constantly puts her in danger of losing her own family since her profession is considered immoral and illegal.

Kate Manning captures the courage of Axie Muldoon while, with equal valor, she tackles the issue of women's reproductive rights, an issue which is still as topical, political and controversial as it was one-hundred-fifty years ago.  The exploration of themes of family, poverty, and choice are very relevant, and heartwrenching.  Manning's rendition of this particular place and time is sumptuous in style and in detail. Her ear for dialogue is superb.  She sustains the dramatic action and tension from the first page to the last.  MY NOTORIOUS LIFE is an exceptional novel with an inimitable heroine, and recommended as a summer read for people who are smart and informed and love great fiction.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blog Tour For A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE PECULIAR by Nick Belardes - My Connection To Odd History, Large and Personal

Today, I am honored to be part of Nick Belardes's freaky blog tour.  Nick's book A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE PECULIAR was published recently by Viva Editions. As a student of history, I found this book to be a splendid chronicle of engrossing, unconventional and riveting information. The foreword by bestselling author Caroline Leavitt emphasizes Nick's compelling gift and voice. His unique view of history is irresistible. The book is divided into eight chapters:


My preoccupation with history, especially strange history, began when I was six years old.  There were two main reasons.  First, I loved looking up at the night sky, and took the story of "the man in the moon" literally. When my parents woke me up to view the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969, I believed that it all had been set up  for me personally to watch.  Second, I got my hands on a copy of the book RIPLEY'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.  "Ripley" was Robert Ripley, a cartoonist and an entrepreneur whose "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" cartoon panels began to be syndicated by William Hearst in newspapers in 1925.  These cartoon panels consisted of everything unusual and strange.  Ripley traveled the world and took photographs of the extraordinary and the macabre, which he then turned into these panels. The panel which intrigued but repelled me the most was about grave robbers who procured corpses for medical doctors to dissect.  
My first adult book, at age eight, was my grandfather's copy of the true crime classic In Cold Blood. Nobody wanted to hear about mass murder in Kansas in the schoolyard at St. Robert Bellarmine.  I couldn’t have cared less.  Once I knew that people wrote books about the macabre, I was hooked for life.
By 1990, I was a "book scout" in New York for a Hollywood producer, finding and assessing books to see if they could be adapted to the silver screen.   I had managed to find my way to the intersection where books meet film and television.  I had a great salary, and an expense account.  I went to free screenings and premieres of movies.  There was even some hobnobbing with celebrities.  Then something awful happened to me personally, and this affected my health.  I could no longer work, and I didn't much care what was happening in the world at large.  I was in a deep, dark place, and my cultural interests reflected this. I returned to my preoccupation with the all that was weird, strange and hard to explain.  My favorite television show was The X-Files.  (Granted, part of my passion for the show was the sight of David Duchovny in a Speedo.)  I went to see the film The Sixth Sense three times the week it opened in August 1999 (which, incidentally, coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nixon's resignation).  The film The Blair Witch was a revelation.  I was far too depressed to read much fiction, other than Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  But I could connect to nonfiction about true crime, disease and the paranormal.  I read books about ghosts, hauntings, psychic phenomena, UFO's, alien abductions, past lives, near-death experiences, Roswell, Area 51...and The Mothman.  
The autumn of 2001 was devastating.  9/11.  My beloved Grandma died at the age of ninety-five.  Two of the vertebrae in my lower spine were ruptured due to the negligence of my personal trainer.  I decided I needed to go "home" to Ireland, to see my cousin Mary and her husband Declan.  Grandma had been born there, and I wanted to get away from New York and be where she had felt so connected.  I would be spending the long Thanksgiving weekend there, and I needed books for the long flight.  

At the Barnes & Noble on West 66th Street and Broadway, I went upstairs to my favorite section:  paranormal nonfiction.  As I was holding a mass market paperback copy of Whitley Strieber's Confirmation:  the Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us?, I noticed a well-dressed older man browsing nearby.  I became so caught up in reading the Strieber book that when he spoke to me, I startled.  He had a very kind face, and a great head of white hair.  He asked me if I had read Communion, Strieber's earlier work about alien encounters.  I told him I had, but that Christopher Walken's over-the-top performance had ruined the film adaptation.  We continued chatting about books on UFO's, and each shared a few personal details.  I told him about my past career working in book publishing, and then film and television.  He told me he was a writer.  For the first time in over ten weeks, I forgot about 9/11.  I relaxed, and enjoyed having a conversation with another New Yorker.  He told me that he also lived on the Upper West Side.  We must have spoken for twenty minutes. He gave me some good book recommendations.  Before he left, I said, "Oh, forgive my manners!  My name is Maura Lynch."  He responded, "It is great to make your acquaintance.  My name is John Keel."
Since John mentioned he was a writer, I went to the help desk to see if they had any titles by John Keel.  I was directed back to the section where I met John.  The name of his book was The Mothman Prophesies. And this all was very strange and very real indeed.
If you read the following sections of Nick's book, you can learn more about The Mothman:

Be sure to follow Nick on Twitter:  @nickbelardes

Follow Caroline Leavitt on Twitter:  @Leavittnovelist

You can follow me on Twitter:       @Loudmouthkid62

Mothman Photo on September 11, 2001

Search For The Mothman (Featuring John Keel)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Personal Essay - Life Intrudes #NaBloPoMo

I am someone who is dependable.  People can rely on me.  By undertaking the challenge of writing one blog post daily every day this month (and there are thirty days in June, in case you forgot), I scheduled everything perfectly.  I'm really good at planning.  But I forgot that old Yiddish proverb:

                                 "Man plans and God laughs."

In my case it was, "Woman plans and dog barfs."  So I am not going to be able to write the review I had scheduled today.  Nor am I going to delve into my psyche to compose a personal essay.  Am I going to I ponder the significance of not being able to meet a self-imposed deadline and timetable?  No. I am going to attend to my dog's sensitive stomach, and take him to the veterinarian.  His health issue means I may not be able to post a blog tomorrow.  

In the scheme of life, my dog means more to me than any social media exposure.  He depends and relies on me, and provides me with the most important content of all: love.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Personal Essay - June Is National PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month - Veterans

June is National PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month.  The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) has this information on its website:

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.
PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.
PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

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I have PTSD.   I was the victim of a violent crime in 1991 at age twenty-eight. When I sought treatment for depression in 1994,  the psychiatrist misdiagnosed and treated me for bipolar II disorder. I know that I will spend the rest of my life "in recovery" from the traumas which caused and which perpetuated my PTSD.  Yet, I consider myself to be extremely lucky in that I now have an excellent psychiatrist and outstanding therapist who give me continuous support, care and counseling. I have learned quite a lot about PTSD in order to deal with the attendant depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and nightmares I experience.  I have experienced both self-imposed isolation and abandonment by family and friends. While I must expend much of my time and energy fighting my own private battle with PTSD, I face the bitter paradox of being ill and having to combat ignorance and stigma.  I am resilient, and I am strong, but I, like any other person with PTSD, would benefit greatly if more people understood what PTSD is, and voiced their concern 

This month I shall be examining PTSD in several posts.  Today I offer some horrifying statistics about what our returning U.S. veterans are facing.
2.4 million U.S. servicemembers have served in the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and in the War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom).  As of  June 2, 2014, 6, 805 have been killed, and nearly 50,000 have been wounded.  Then there are those returning veterans who are suffering with PTSD.  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD gives the following statistic:
In about 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom), or in the range of 11-20 Veterans out of 100 who served in OEF/OIF

220,000 is a conservative estimate of how many veterans have PTSD.
The RAND Corporation (the nonprofit global policy think tank formed to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces)  survey in 2008 yielded a much higher statistic:
18.5% of all returning servicemembers meet the criteria for PTSD or depression...14% of returning servicemembers meet the criteria for PTSD...14% of returning servicemembers meet the criteria for depression...
That means that now, in 2014, at least 460,000 veterans are dealing with PTSD, and further reports show that less than half of them seek help.  Even when veterans do seek help, the VA only has stopgap measures in place.  The aforementioned National Center for PTSD run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs "conducts research and provides education on the prevention, understanding,  and treatment of PTSD" but it "does not provide direct clinical care."  

When veterans with PTSD cannot get a proper diagnosis, nor treatment, counseling, and support, another alarming statistic appears.  The Department of Veterans Affairs  issued a "Suicide Data Report" in 2012.  The report examined suicide data of veterans from 1999 to 2010, and revealed that a veteran commits suicide once every sixty-five minutes.  That is 18 suicides a day.  But that number jumped to 22 suicides a day in 2012. Since approximately 31%  of veteran suicides were committed by those under the age of forty-nine, there have been at least 40,000 veteran suicides. Translation:  nearly six times as many veterans die from suicide than they do from combat.

What must be done?  According to Paul Rieckhoff, the Founder and Executive Director of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), there has to be a huge increase of qualified military mental health professionals. The long-term cost of treating veterans may run as high as $3 trillion. There also must be an increase in the employment of veterans to offset the financial problems which compound stress.  

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will be introducing a bill to tackle the extensive problems in the VA health care system to the Committee on Thursday, June 5, 2014.  His proposed bill is called The Restoring Veterans' Trust Act of 2014.

Finally, there must be a marked change in our society's attitude toward all people struggling with mental illness. Stigma keeps veterans from seeking what treatment there is.  It's hard enough to fight PTSD without facing discrimination, shame, harassment, and lack of understanding.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

BlogHer|June 2014|NaBloPoMo

Thanks to Melissa Ford and BlogHer, I learned about this thirty-day blogging challenge, one which I welcome gratefully!  Every day this month, June 2014, I will be posting.  There will be book reviews, author Q&A's, and personal essays.

This first post is an announcement and a declaration of intent.  I'm excited, and I look forward to reading posts by other participants!